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Betsy DeVos Throws Together Superintendents Meeting in Grand Rapids, Gives Appearance of Public Involvement

August 2, 2017

If I were US secretary of education, and I really wanted to interact with public school superintendents in my home state, I would not do what US ed sec Betsy DeVos did:

Call the supporter who considers DeVos “a great win for children” and have her throw together a prescribed (manageable) number of local superintendents for a “see, I talk to public school administrators” publicity opportunity.

According to US Department of Education (USDOE) press release dated August 02, 2017, the above is exactly what DeVos did, and she used her sometimes supporter, Grand Rapids (MI) superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal, to both hastily organize (and limit) the event and also serve as official spokesperson for how super this orchestrated DeVos Meets Public School Supers fared:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Grand Rapids (MI) Public Schools today for a roundtable discussion with superintendents from across the state of Michigan. The secretary opened the conversation by asking the group: “How can I best help you serve your students?”

The superintendents and the secretary discussed the following topics, among others:

  • recruiting, honoring and retaining effective teachers
  • equipping teachers with professional development and skills not taught in many higher education institutions
  • addressing regulatory burdens that limit flexibility for local educators and pull school leaders out of the classroom
  • implementing personalized learning solutions to better meet the needs of students
  • providing services necessary to help students grow and thrive inside and outside of school

“We had a very productive and insightful conversation,” said Secretary DeVos. “I appreciate each of the superintendents traveling to Grand Rapids to share their ideas and observations on how we can better work together to serve all students. I left the meeting re-assured that giving local leaders more control is important to improving education for every student in America.”

Grand Rapids Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal who hosted the meeting, gave the following statement:

“Last week, I received a call from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ office asking me if I would host a meeting with approximately 25 superintendents from across the state. We invited a diverse group of superintendents from all corners of the state representing urban, suburban, and rural districts. The Secretary specifically asked for superintendents to share how best she and her department could better serve our districts. It was a very open, positive, respectful and constructive dialogue with superintendents sharing their issues, concerns and ideas specific to the federal budget, policy issues, regulations, reporting requirements, assessments and more. …

“I know I can speak for my colleagues when I say we are really grateful for the time and opportunity to meet with Secretary DeVos. We look forward to an on-going dialogue on how we can work together to improve education outcomes for all children.”

Today’s event followed a teacher roundtable Secretary DeVos held on Tuesday at the Van Andel Education Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

As for that August 01, 2017, Van Andel visit: According to the July 31, 2017, Grand Rapids The River, USDOE did not announce DeVos’ Van Andel “teacher roundtable” (doesn’t read like anything other than rushed, brief, highly-structured PR event):

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will visit Grand Rapids Community College and Van Andel Education Institute on Tuesday, August 1.

Secretary DeVos will visit Grand Rapids Community College from 1:30pm – 3:30pm. She will tour the culinary kitchen, machine lab and apprenticeship facilities. The visit will highlight the apprenticeship and workforce development programs offered at Grand Rapids Community College.

Secretary DeVos will also visit Van Andel Education Institute on Tuesday where she will observe a student STEM program and participate in a teacher roundtable. The visit will highlight science education and STEM instruction at Van Andel.

The travel plans were announced by the U.S. Department of Education this evening.

DeVos’ schedule, posted only a week at a time but apparently not before the week begins, offers “open press” but little time for press to organize and arrive– and no real indication just how “open” DeVos’ time with the press actually is.

In short, it seems that DeVos is strategizing on how to give the appearance of interaction and availability even as she protects herself from it. And why not? The public interferes with DeVos’ plans, like her plan to have a single contractor oversee USDOE’s trillion-dollar student loan portfolio. As the August 01, 2017, Washington Post reports, that idea has been nixed:

The Trump administration on Tuesday canceled a contract solicitation that would have handed the management of the federal government’s $1.2 trillion portfolio of education loans to a single company amid growing complaints from industry stakeholders and lawmakers. …

DeVos faced a flurry of criticism when she announced plans to have one contractor instead of nine manage the federal student loan portfolio. The changes, which would have taken effect once the existing contracts expire in 2019, riled some lawmakers, advocacy groups and at least one servicing company.

If you give them time and information, that nuisance of a public will only interfere.

Best to keep ’em guessing, eh, Betsy?


betsy devos 4  Betsy DeVos


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    A great report. Thanks and happy 50. Now you can say ” i am this side of 50″ and let people guess which side. That will work until the big 60.

  2. Perhaps we are seeing the political game as it now evolves: constituents and the press told about “public meetings” and “town halls” AFTER they are over…

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